Honestly, from the first couple of pages, I was hooked on The Year of the Witching. It’s not your average book about witches with more of a Salem witches vibe than a modern witches vibe. However, don’t think that the puritanical church is the same as the one in real life. There are some similarities, but what Alexis Henderson shares with us here is a completely different world with a completely different set of rules. Most definitely the kind of book you want to pick up for Halloween, but you’ll walk away from it with some bigger themes and story.
Here’s more about the book
In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.
But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.
Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.
Well, I already mentioned that I really liked this book. It definitely has a horror vibe to it, but nothing is too gorey or overkill to make you want to put the book down. Aside from the way Immanuelle bursts onto the scene in the prologue, I will say this story is more subtle than I imagined. I was expecting the horror components to be very in your face, but they were actually not so bad. However, you still have to be careful for a lot of bloody scenes, sacrifice, blood magic, myths coming to life, and other parts that make this more a dark fantasy than a horror story.
Immanuelle was probably my favorite character. Of course, she’s the main character but that’s not why I found her so intriguing. What was great about her is her mental and emotional states throughout the novel. She wasn’t running into the fire to save everyone right away. She was a little shy and a little guarded right in the beginning. You can almost say she hid herself away because of her upbringing and her family. As the story progressed, you see her go from this timid girl who does her best to abide by the rules of the Prophet to a bad ass woman who makes a very difficult decision at the end of the novel. It was truly awesome to watch her growth, see her struggle, and gain that power she has at the end. This was most definitely the heroine’s journey story.
One of the major components of this novel is this puritanical village run by a man known as The Prophet. It was interesting to see his abuse of power and how he used that to his advantage. I think what intrigued me about The Prophet was how easy it was for him to assume the position of power, use it very much to his advantage, and still have people following him. The puritanical village and church were definitely parts that felt very true to reality. While this isn’t based on any religion that exists in real life, it felt like it did. It felt like this could have been some small town in the middle of the United States. I think that’s what the most frightening part of this novel was.
It was also really interesting to see how Alexis Henderson use different races in her book. The puritanical village is mostly white while folks on the Outskirts of the village are darker skinned. Immanuelle is bi-racial and you can tell from the little things she experiences it’s an existence she wished she didn’t have. From wanting hair like her best friend, Leah, to feeling less like a burden to her grandmother and grandfather, Immaneulle’s race and sex definitely play huge roles in the novel. I was pleasantly surprised and so happy when she finally took claim to herself, found her father’s side of the family, and felt welcomed in a way she never felt in the church. I thought it brought an interesting dynamic to Immaneulle and her family especially at a crucial point towards the end.
However, I wanted there to be more Ezra. I wanted more Vera. I wanted to know more about the folks living on the Outskirts. I wanted to see more of the world outside of Bethel. I also felt like the story moved way too quickly. I don’t know if that’s a bias because I’ve been reading so many slow burns this month, but I wanted there to be more time spent with Vera. I wanted to understand Ezra a little bit better. It moved quite quickly and as much as I loved a fast paced novel like this one, I wanted it to slow down just to make the great parts of this novel shine a bit more and give Immanuelle that realistic heroine’s journey. I think she’s definitely gone through some real trials throughout the novel, but there were a few moments that felt too easy and quickly moved on to the next thing.
Overall, this was a quick and spooky read good for anyone who loves the pace of a YA fantasy novel and a good amount of gore. While I wish it slowed down a bit and let the other characters in the book develop including Immanuelle’s family, it was definitely the kind of read I love. It was fast paced. It had a really lovable main character and it had an interesting world that felt super close to the real one.
Thanks to Berkley for gifting me a copy of this book.